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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Esther sat down again by the coins


Whether

the mother thought that, may be questioned. She looked again at the child standing before her; a child truly, with childlike innocence and ignorance in her large eyes and pure lips. But the eyes were eyes of beauty; and the lips would soon and readily take to themselves the sweetness and the consciousness of womanhood, and a new bloom would come upon the cheek. The colonel had never yet looked forward to all that; but the wise eyes of the matron saw it as well as if already before her. This little girl might well by and by be dangerous. If Mrs. Dallas had come as a friend, she went away, in a sort, as an enemy, in so far, at least, as Esther's further and future relations with her son were concerned.

The colonel went back to his sofa. Esther sat down again by the coins. She was not quite old enough to reflect much upon the developments of human nature as they came before her; but she was conscious of a disagreeable, troubled sensation left by this visit of Mrs. Dallas. It had not been pleasant. It ought to have been pleasant: she was Pitt's mother; she came on a kind errand; but Esther felt at once repelled and put at a distance.

The child had not gone back to the dull despondency of the time before Pitt busied himself with her; she was striving to fulfil all his wishes, and working hard in order to accomplish more than he expected of her. With the cherished secret hope of doing this, Esther was driving at her

books early and late. She went from the coins to the histories Pitt had told her would illustrate them; she fagged away at the dry details of her Latin grammar; she even tried to push her knowledge of plants and see further into their relations with each other, though in this department she felt the want of her teacher particularly. From day to day it was the one pressing desire and purpose in Esther's mind, to do more, and if possible much more, than Pitt wanted her to do; so that she might surprise him and win his respect and approbation. She thought, too, that she was in a fair way to do this, for she was gaining knowledge fast, she knew; and it was a great help towards keeping up spirit and hope and healthy action in her mind. Nevertheless, she missed her companion and friend, with an intense longing want of him which nobody even guessed. All the more keen it was, perhaps, because she could speak of it to nobody. It consumed the girl in secret, and was only saved from being disastrous to her by the transformation of it into working energy, which transformation daily went on anew. It did not help her much, or she thought so, to remember that Pitt was coming home at the end of December. He would not stay; and Esther was one of those thoughtful natures that look all round a subject, and are not deceived by a first fair show. He could not stay; and what would his coming and the delight of it do, after all, but renew this terrible sense of want and make it worse than ever? When he went away again, it would be for a long, long time,--an absence of months; how was it going to be borne?

The problem of life was beginning early for Esther. And the child was alone. Nobody knew what went on in her; she had nobody to whom she could open her heart and tell her trouble; and the troubles we can tell to nobody else somehow weigh very heavy, especially in young years. The colonel loved his child with all of his heart that was not buried in his wife's grave; still, he was a man, and like most men had little understanding of the workings of a child's mind, above all of a girl's. He saw Esther pale, thoughtful, silent, grave, for ever busy with her books; and it never crossed his thoughts that such is not the natural condition and wholesome manner of life for twelve years old. He knew nothing for himself so good as books; why should not the same be true for Esther? She was a studious child; he was glad to see her so sensible.


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